In his opening address to the more than 4,000 delegates, ILO’s Director-General Guy Ryder stressed the need to look at the longer-term drivers of change, which he termed “transformational mega-trends”, and what they imply for ILO goals in its second century.
The ILO Director-General set the organisation’s outlook over the next one hundred years around issues of jobs, equity, sustainability, human security, labour mobility and social dialogue, and urged delegates to proffer ways to embed them within a comprehensive framework of policy initiatives for the future.
The proposed initiative would be structured around four conversations: work and society; the organisation of work and production; decent jobs for all; and the governance of work. Subsequently, a high-level commission on the future of work would prepare a report to the ILO’s centenary Conference in 2019.
In addition, the Conference will also discuss issues of climate change, a proposed first-ever international standard on the transition from the informal to the formal economy; the role of small and medium enterprises as a major job creation engine; and how to ensure labour protection on wages, working time, maternity and occupational safety and health, which are at the heart of the ILO’s mandate.
High-level discussions on climate change and the world of work, as well as child labour will also be held, while member States will be encouraged to ratify the 2014 protocol to the ILO Convention on Forced Labour, to bring it into effect.
The Conference’s focus could not have come at a better time given the statistics contained in the latest World Employment and Social Outlook report, which show that global unemployment reached 201 million in 2014, over 30 million higher than before the start of the global crisis in 2008. Providing jobs for the more than 40 million additional people who enter the global labour market every year is equally proving to be a daunting challenge, alongside the transformation challenge facing employment relationships all across the world.
What these all mean is that labour movements, organisations and unions in each country have a huge role to play in ensuring that their governments through well articulated policies, address effectively the growing joblessness and endorse, domesticate and apply the critical ILO conventions on labour protection across both public and private sector employment chains.
In Nigeria for example, a new executive was recently elected to steer the affairs of the Nigeria Labour Congress-NLC, at its 11th quadrennial delegates’ conference. The new NLC executive now has the arduous task of not just striving to continually influence public policies and legislation but also propelling the domestication and implementation of international labour conventions, to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Nigerian workers and disadvantaged groups like the physically-challenged in the society expect organised labour to protect their interest. With the inauguration of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, organised labour has yet another opportunity to paper its cracks and reposition itself to play its statutory role as expected.
Indeed, throughout the world, labour groups are regarded as antagonistic and confrontational to national governments. This is however, not necessarily the case at all times, especially in instances where labour unions help to propel tangible development and national growth. It is this latter scenario that the NLC is being enjoined to pursue, in order to consolidate its historical, political and sociological antecedents on the path to charting a sustainable socio-economic transformation for Nigeria.
The reality simply is that the work issues of yesterday remain as germane as they are today and may well continue into the future, unless labour movements, organisations and unions proactively refocus and recommend bold initiatives to tackle them.
New ways and means must be designed to positively intervene and influence decision-making at the level of legislation and policy, especially for critical sectors like agriculture, energy, oil and gas, manufacturing and allied industries. Similarly, labour unions in Nigeria have to address once and for all, the vexed issues of minimum wage, unemployment, inflation and valuation of the national currency, the Naira.
Indeed, the days of reactionary unionism and perpetual strikes to counter government policies are gone. The Nigeria Labour Congress must lend its voice to the current global work initiatives, if it is to remain relevant in the the country’s work future.